Monday, December 31, 2012

Best Reads of 2012

Happy New Year's Eve, fellow readers!  I hope you all have super exciting plans for this non-holiday - I shall be going to a movie, dinner, and bowling?!  Such happenings.  I probably shall not be reading much today, but I shall be talking about books.  The best books... that I read in 2012.

Sometimes I feel like my book reviews are super-negative honest (but not always in the nicest way) and people must wonder why I read when I clearly hate it so much, but then I was going back through the blog and my Goodreads account to review what I read this year and I got super-excited about so many titles!  So excited that I couldn't contain myself to two top five lists (one for print and one for audio) so I ended up with a top eight list for print books, even while counting the various books of a series as one entity.  Oh well.  So, in case you can't tell how much I love reading (what with the blog and all) and in no particular order, I give you my best books and audiobooks of 2012!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Partial History of Lost Causes ~ Jennifer duBois

I hope everybody had a very Merry Christmas!  I had a great day - gifts and breakfast with my nephew in the morning (he made out like a bandit - "I didn't know I was this good" was his response to all the gifts under the tree!), and sushi, board games, and relaxation in the afternoon with my husband.  And after weeks of build-up, it's all over.  Sigh.  Oh well, back to life as usual...or something like it, since I don't have classes for another month!  Well, blogging as usual at least, as I attempt to squeeze in all of this year's remaining reviews in less than a week.

Despite my lofty fall reading goals, I only managed to read one full-length piece of writing in print all season.  I won Jennifer duBois's newly-published debut novel from Zeteticat at Bookish Habits back in September, so when I had some free time thanks to Hurricane Sandy (really, no thanks to her), I decided to pick it up.  I thought I'd like it...  I wanted to like it...  But it took me a month to get through, only partially due to graduate school, and in the end it just didn't do it for me.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

My Fall TBR List...After the Fact

So back in September I made a Top Ten Tuesday list of my reading plans for fall and since tomorrow's the first day of winter, I thought it would be amusing to go back and see how I did.  Because I did not do well.  And this is why I try to keep reading firmly in the "fun" category of my life, because I am terrible at committing to reading more than one book at a time.

1) Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson: Just stick to the title people.
2) My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: This is ongoing.  I read maybe two stories from it, but that's fine.  It's an anthology.  That's how they go.
3) The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien: Vomit.  But at least I read listened to it and can check it off of my Classics Challenge list!
4) The Lord of The Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien: After the atrocity that was The Hobbit, I did somehow make it through The Fellowship of the Ring (review to come? [probably not]).  And then I subscribed to Audible, which put a stop to all that ridiculousness.
5) The Children of Henry VIII by Alison Weir: Didn't even pick it up.
6) Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre by H.P. Lovecraft: Read a couple stories for Halloween, which is exactly what I intended.
7) A Walk for Sunshine by Jeff Alt: Keep walking, people.  Nothing to see here.
8) The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Steve Chbosky: I saw the movie!  That's good enough, right?!

So out of a list of eight novels and two story anthologies, I read... two books and a handful of short stories... about 25% of my goal!  Oops!  I guess that committing myself to this many books that I only had in print with almost no time to read anything that wasn't in audiobook form was not the best of ideas.  Oh well!  Onwards, I say, and I'll read them in the end.

How did your fall reading plans go?

Monday, December 17, 2012

In the Woods ~ Tana French

So remember how after I read Gone Girl, I was all, normally I don't read mystery thrillers because I'm a book snob but this one was purported to be so good that I condescended to make an exception?  Okay, not really, but yeah, usually I stay away from such fare.  Well, I've broken my own rule again, and again due to my fellow bloggers knocking me on the head and saying read this and I'm just glad that I've gotten better at listening.  Because In the Woods was definitely worth straying out of my comfort zone for the second time of late.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: New-to-Me Authors

Welcome to my first Top Ten Tuesday since September!  This week's topic, provided by the ladies at The Broke and the Bookish, is Favorite New-to-Me Authors I read in 2012.  I'm excited about this topic because I read several new authors this year and it's high time I rambled on about them!  Because, you know, I never do that in my posts or anything.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Beautiful Ruins ~ Jess Walter

Jess Walter's latest novel, Beautiful Ruins, is a novel that makes you stop and take notice.  It's one of the many novels I've read lately that I've been meaning to read for a while and only managed to thanks to my new subscription to Audible.  I can't believe that I waited this long.  And it was so good that I wished I'd read it in print form, except the narration by Edoardo Ballerini is so good that I can't imagine not having experienced it.  I guess I'll just need to buy a copy of the book too.  It's really that good.  I fully expect it to be winning some prizes.  Some more prizes, that is.  Audible has already named it the best audiobook of the year!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Elegance of the Hedgehog ~ Muriel Barbery

The Elegance of the Hedgehog is one of those books I've been meaning to read for a while but never quite made it to the top of my to-read list...until Audible and Audible's awesome (and frequent) sales.  I actually originally wanted to read it in French, but I think that by now my French has deteriorated to the point that that would have just been an exercise in google translator, if my French was ever good enough to begin with (I never quite grasped the passé simple).  It turns out that listening to the audiobook wasn't the best of ideas either, for reasons that I'll get into later.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Age of Miracles ~ Karen Thompson Walker

One fall day, sometime around today, the Earth's rotation starts to slow.  It's imperceptible at first, but "the Slowing" increases rapidly.  Humans split into clock-timers, who follow the old 24-hour clock, out of tune with the sun; and real-timers, whose body's learn to sleep through the ever-lengthing nights and keep going through the expanding days.  Birds drop out of the sky, the food supply is in peril, and all we once understood about the universe starts to unravel.  At the heart of this is Julia, an 11-year old living in California, who struggles to understand the unstable world around her while dealing with the cliques, broken friendships, and incomprehensible longing of pre-adolescence.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving Eats

Hello fellow Americans and all people who like to eat delicious things!  Thanksgiving, that day when we gluttonously give thanks despite the encroachment of Black Friday, is nearly upon us, and that means that many of us are frantically grocery shopping and trying to figure out just how everything will fit into the oven so that it will all be hot and delicious at once.  Or not.  I think my family has always gone a bit overboard, creating a worthy-of-TV smorgasbord of semi-seasonal favorites.  But not this year!  Not at all.  This year, due to last-minute travel changes due to various medical issues, our Thanksgiving plans got all flip-flopped and I found myself committed to two separate Thanksgiving parties, about a two-hour drive from each other.  Oopsies.  I did some fast-talking and turned my family gathering into a Thanksgiving brunch (which I've wanted to do for years anyway), and honestly, the menu seems a bit less crazy.  We'll have quiche and brie and my mother's famous stuffed mushrooms and waffles and butternut squash soup/puree and pie and it will be wonderful.  Even though I'm a day late, I just wanted to share some of the recipes I'm using with you so that your Thanksgiving can also be delicious. (Note to vegans: the pie and waffles contain eggs.)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

My Cousin Rachel ~ Daphne du Maurier

So, I'm very behind on posting my complaint review of The Fellowship of the Ring, but you've pretty much heard it already if you've read my complaint review of The Hobbit so let's just save that for another day and plow on, shall we?

I decided to read My Cousin Rachel entirely on a whim, and also because Natalie at Coffee and a Book Chick told me to.  And, since I am now a proud Audible subscriber (seriously, oh uninitiated, it's great) I was able to just get it and have it and now it's mine.  Ah, capitalism.  Also, I've been meaning to read more du Maurier since I enjoyed Rebecca a while back, so this was as good an excuse as any.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hurricane Reads

I survived the hurricane!  Woot!

It was only slightly rainy but oh-so-gusty, and we spent Monday evening watching the trees sway about until around 8:30, when the power went out.  It was the first time we've lost power in this apartment - Irene didn't manage to make us do anything but reset our clocks last year.  So we watched Amelie on the fully-charged laptop and went to bed early.  And then we woke up on Tuesday and it was coooold, because the heat doesn't work without power, and I finally understood the attraction of the snuggie.  And then that night we lost hot water.  And by then it was already far longer than I've ever gone without electricity without it being on purpose (I once went on a 10-day canoe trip without electricity, but that was by choice).  And that morning we went for a walk to see the damage and here are some things we saw.

Monday, October 29, 2012


At the risk of sharing more about my personal life than is really safe to do on the interwebs, I'm going to point our that I live in NJ, right in the middle of the orange strip above.  And also, that this is less than a mile from my house (if you know where it is, please don't tell any serial killers with whom you might be acquainted):
I stole this picture from somebody on Facebook.  Thanks, stranger.
And it's not even raining!  I mean, it's kind of drizzling and stuff, but it's not the kind of weather that has you strapping on a life jacket.  In fact, I am underwhelmed.  Irene was dull too.  Maybe because we had a tornado (yup in NJ) on my 11th birthday, I am now unimpressed by anything that Mother Nature has to throw at me.  Or maybe tomorrow I will be rescinding this comment.

BUT it is a good day!  My internship and my husband's job both decided to close before realizing that Sandy was taking her time, so we are home, and he is making me waffle fries with cheese and scallions and all sorts of delicious things, and we are going to play board games, and I may actually get to read a book for fun, something I have not done in over a month.  So really, Hurricane Sandy is awesome for my marriage and life in general and I wish she would stay a while... or maybe tomorrow I will be rescinding this comment.

What are your rain day plans?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Gone Girl ~ Gillian Flynn

The quality or enjoyability of the audiobooks I listen to is positively correlated with how clean my apartment is.  For example, while I was listening to The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring, I consistently had a sink full of dishes, the floors could do with a sweeping, and when did I last scoop out the litter box?  On the other hand, my apartment has spent the last week in a state of near perfection.  The floors were all swept, the sink was almost always empty, and I even cleaned off the top of the microwave, where I store my spices, which I have literally never done before.  The reason?  Gone Girl.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Shine Shine Shine ~ Lydia Netzer

Here I am, with yet another book that I finished weeks ago, this time on audiobook (my first purchase with Audible, which I officially L O V E).  And it was SO GOOD.  And weird.  And random.  And I loved it.  Unfortunately, the time gap and lack of a paper copy for me to reference means I don't have that many specific things to say about the novel, but I'll give you what counts.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Prayer for Owen Meany ~ John Irving

I am so late on this review.  I finished A Prayer for Owen Meany weeks ago, and not only have I not had a chance to post about it until now (and only now because I'm eating breakfast [stale cereal] and a couple of minutes ahead of schedule) but I haven't even had a chance to pick up another book.  Reread The Perks of Being a Wallflower before watching the movie?  Nah.  Read some scary stories by H.P. Lovecraft in honor of Halloween?  Guess not.  It's all about the audiobooks this semester (and can I just say that that's underwhelming as well - man is Tolkien dull).

Friday, October 5, 2012

What I've Been Trying To Say

So true, and it makes me sad that so many people, even grown women who would never tolerate such treatment, can't see it.

PS. Ladies, watch the rest of her videos, or however many you can reasonably view in one sitting.  Show them to teen girls and young women you know!  Laci Green is kind of awesome.  So sad I just discovered her today.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

VERY IMPORTANT Casual Vacancy Prophecy

Okay guys, I have no idea when I'm going to read it, but here's my theory about J.K. Rowling's new novel, Casual Vacancy, which has taken over my blog reading list.  Also, it may really be a theory about J.K. Rowling's subconscious.  Whatever it is, I need to say it before someone else has.  Which they may have, I just haven't noticed.  Okay, here goes:

Killing off a character with a rhyming name is really an effort to put Harry to rest once and for all.

Here's where you gasp and flatter my genius.  And/or tell me how obvious that was.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Hobbit ~ J.R.R Tolkien

Hello, blogging people.  Here I am, up to my ears in grad school and struggling to remember books I read/listened to weeks ago and have yet to review.  Such is life.  Anywho, I listened to The Hobbit on audiobook, thus completing the second book in my Classics Club list, so woot!  But I found it horribly boring, so not so woot.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Bring Up the Bodies ~ Hillary Mantel

I finished this audiobook a few weeks ago, but graduate school is rather incompatible with blogging, hence my absence from the interwebs of late.  My apologies.

So Bring Up the Bodies is sometimes called a sequel to Wolf Hall, another novel of Mantel's which I have not read.  However, since my library did not have Wolf Hall on audiobook and both are historical fiction, I deemed this point to be pointless.  Both deal with the history of the Tudors, which I think I've read enough about to be able to jump in at any point really, and if some lost reader out there has not, there is always Wikipedia.  Or just winging it because really, that's probably fine.  Remember how all you ever learned about the Tudors in school was how Henry VIII beheaded Anne Boleyn and married a bunch of other ladies?  There, you're all caught up.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday Thinkers

Yesterday's Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) is all about books that make me think, which is perfect, because I like to think.  It's one of my favorite activities, next to reading and ranting about vegetarianism, which I realize now that I haven't done on the blog in a while.  I'll have to remedy that.  ANYWAY.  So, books that make me think.  It was kind of hard to come up with a list, because so many books make me think and often in different ways.  For example, in Deathly Hallows, Harry's ending speech to Voldemort made me think a lot as I tried to figure out what the heck he was talking about.  The Sound and the Fury (which I will finish one of these days) made me think in that I had to struggle to have some idea of what was going on (I usually failed at this, and at the book in general).  So yeah, I thought, but it wasn't fun or particularly interesting.  More like brain calisthenics.  Somehow, I don't think that this is what we're going for.  So here are my top ten books that made think in a good, productive, potentially useful way, while still enjoying the process of actually reading a book.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Mansfield Park ~ Jane Austen

This is the first book I've read for the Classics Club, putting my 1/50 of my way to completion.  Woot!  Check out my Challenges page to see my progress and the full list of titles I plan to read in the next five years.

I had an English professor in undergrad, who compared English and French marriage literature, saying that in English lit, a woman's life ends when she gets married while for a French woman, that's when life really begins.  With that in mind, I feel that Jane Austen really must have hated married women.  Can you think of a married female character of hers who isn't just ridiculous, obnoxious, or absent?  In case you aren't sure, Mansfield Park will set you straight, having as it does such useless, annoying, and mockable married women (while married men tend to be just fine).  Which makes me wonder if that's why she ended her novels with her heroines' marriages, so that we don't have to see what a sharp decline they inevitably make afterwards.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Top Ten: Fall TBR List

It's been a while since I've done a Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, but this week's topic has been on my mind, what with school starting this week.  With four classes and a 24 hour/week field placement, reading means strategizing.  I have no expectation of actually managing to read 10 books over the next 4 months, so I didn't bother struggling to reach that goal.  Without further ado, the top ten books of my fall TBR list.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Camp NaNoWriMo Wrap-Up and Musings

Bwahaha.  Such a hopeful blog title with such a sad purpose: to tell you all that I failed, and failed horribly at Camp NaNoWriMo 2012.  I came in at a whopping 4969 words, falling 45031 short of the goal of 50,000.  Not even 10%.  Pathetic.

But while I wasn't writing very much, I was thinking about writing, about why I want to write and what always makes writing so hard for me.  The why is really the tougher part - I've wanted to write since I was very young.  While other kids were saying that they wanted to be a teacher (I sometimes said that) or a firefighter or a doctor or a waitress (I sometimes said that too), I was usually saying that I wanted to be "an author."  From when I was little I knew I wanted to write out of my love for reading.  I remember sitting down in the third grade and penning, not a story, but a list of titles of the stories I would write.  I remember that one such title was "Pans of Blood."  My literary tastes have clearly changed since then.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Storm of Swords ~ George R.R. Martin

This is a review of the third book in George R.R. Martin's series, A Song of Ice and Fire.  If you missed them, you can check out my review of first two book as well: A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings.

Gasp.  Gasp.  GASP!

That is essentially what I have been saying for the past week because George R.R. Martin is crazy and has no mercy and the only way you can survive his books is by being maimed and or broken in some other way.  And by "you" I mean his characters.  The books themselves don't paper cut you to death or anything.  Unless you're mad.  The characters that is.  Mad as in crazy.  Crazy people are allowed to die.  Excessively short, noseless people are not.  Neither are furious children, or legless children.  Low-born children are allowed to die so long as they're still in one piece.  THERE.  I've solved it.  Whatever "it" is.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Classics Club

Yes, I am jumping on that bandwagon.  The Classics Club, 50 classics in five years, oh my!  So I chose my classics with an eye to:

1) what I already own
2) what I'm always embarrassed to admit I've never read
3) what I've always intended to read
4) what I still feel guilty about skipping in high school
5) avoiding those books that I'd like to have read but I know just won't happen (see: Ulysses)

So yeah, you know what it's all about, I'm sure.  I've mostly constructed a list of classic classics, Charles Dickens and whatnot, but I've also included some other genres like sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and even kids' books (Everyone read The Giver but me!  Everyone!).  My list is below, and I've also added it to my rather sparse Challenges page, should you ever feel the urge to check my progress.  And here they are, 50 books I'm committing myself to read by August 24, 2017.  Oy.  Oh and I'm starting today with Mansfield Park.  Wish me luck!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bel Canto ~ Ann Patchett

Have you ever read a book that just captured your heart, that made you want to do nothing but read it and proclaim to the world how great it was?  A book in which both the story and the writing totally worked for you, where the ending broke your heart even though it never could have ended any other way?  A book where you didn't even need to hesitate before assigning it five stars on Goodreads and paused only to wonder why anybody would ever rate it anything less?  Yeah.  That's what Bel Canto was for me.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Lolita ~ Vladimir Nabokov

I may have mentioned this here before, but Lolita and I go way back.  I purchased a new copy of the book probably close to ten years ago now.  I started reading, got to the part where he licks her eyeball, and - stopped.  I tried picking it up again a few years later and didn't even get that far.  It wasn't so much the eyeball-licking that stopped me but something about the writing, the narrator...  I can't be sure what stopped me back then.  And it wasn't just Lolita.  Within the last couple of years I started reading another of Nabokov's novels, Pale Fire, and again found myself inexplicably brought up short - I wasn't compelled, I wasn't interested, I didn't get it.  And then along comes a book club that barely exists and a friend with inscrutable reading tastes and suddenly I find myself agreeing to read Lolita.  Why not?  It's still on my to-read shelf and I can't bring myself to give it away (Why?  Pride?  Literary obligation?  A sense that this moment might come and I don't want to have to hunt down another copy?).  And so I agree and am committed.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Reading Journal: My To-Read List

So apparently I'm in list-making mode.  I decided that today I should both make a list of all of the books on my to-read shelf and join the Classics Club.  I haven't finished my list for the Classics Club yet, but I thought I'd share my to-read list in the meantime.  Besides being an excessively long list of books that I own and have not read (87!), it's kind of interesting for me to look at, to see where I've been in my reading life and where I thought I'd go.  You can view my list here; meanwhile here are some observations I've made about it and memories that it's inspired:

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Possession ~ A.S. Byatt

So, Possession was an interesting read for me.  I initially picked it up because so many bloggers were all Bestest thing ever!  Read now or die!  And I was all, you know, gullible.  It immediately proved to be a slooooow read, due to the often flowery writing, lack of action, repeated decisions during the first 100 pages to give up on it (none of which I stuck to, fortunately), and, of course, the Telegraph Avenue read along which sucked up much of my reading time.  If you remember my first post about Possession, I was having a tough time deciding if what the characters all do (i.e. study literature in crazy depth for a living) is really a worthwhile undertaking and if anything truly belongs in a museum.  Well, I delighted to see that the author, A.S. Byatt considered these questions as well, and seems to have come to some of the same conclusions as me, which was gratifying.  In the end, I really found myself wondering who I would recommend this book to.  But first, the book.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Clash of Kings ~ George R.R. Martin

This is a review of the second book in George R.R. Martin's famed series, A Song of Ice and Fire.  If you missed it, you can check out my review of the first book, A Game of Thrones as well.

So, remember how after reading A Game of Thrones, I was all pshaw, you crazy fans are making much ado about nothing because this is not really all that awesome?  I officially retract those words.

I finally got my life back sometime after breakfast this morning.  For the past week, I have done little else other than eat, sleep, and read A Clash of Kings.  I don't know what it is, but this book clicked for me in a way that Games of Thrones did not.  The writing seemed better (or at least less distracting), I had more of an investment in the characters and the plot, and I just couldn't put the thing down.  Martin does a really good job of building tension - hundreds of pages worth of tension, which just kept me hooked because ohmygod who will the king be?!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Camp Nanowrimo

As you may have noticed from the badge on the side of the blog, I have signed up for Camp Nanowrimo.  That's right: once again, I will attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in just one month.  I did complete it last time, though that time it was actually a cumulative of 50,000 words since I started three separate projects in that time.  Today is day one of Nanowrimo and I've already changed my topic from what I had intended to write about, so we'll see how it goes this time around.  I'm planning to keep posting, though you may be seeing more about Nanowrimo than anything.  Of course, it seems silly to use writing time and energy towards writing about Nanowrimo and not completing my Nanowrimo project but such is the way of procrastination.  I just hope I make it through, as I had no desire to start when I woke up this morning and realized that it is August 1.  Wish me luck (and soy chai lattes)!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Telegraph Avenue Read Along: Part Five and Wrap Up

This is the final post in the Telegraph Avenue pre-release read along hosted by Emily at As the Crow Flies (and Reads).  In case you missed them, make sure to peruse my reviews of part onepart two, and parts three and four.  If the book seems super-awesome, be sure to pre-order a copy!

First things first.  I'm going to talk about the novel's ending first (beware extra-spoiling spoilers) and then give some final thoughts on the process of doing read alongs and reviewing ARCs.  Onwards.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Meatless Mondays and the Department of Agriculture

Meatless Monday is a movement to get Americans to eat less meat and more veggies through the simple expedient of not eating any animal products one day a week.  It's a great way to segue into vegetarianism or even veganism, or just make a small but real difference in your health and the environment.  To that end, on Meatless Mondays here at Soy Chai Bookshelf I will talk about anything related to food and vegetarianism, from cookbook reviews to to recipes I've created (don't hold your breath) to bragging about the delicious vegetarian feast I just whipped up to discussing in a (hopefully) not-too-judgemental way why vegetarianism is a great choice.  I would also love to host guest posters on the topic, so if you're interested in being featured, send me an e-mail at jlmarck at gmail dot com.

You may have noticed that Meatless Monday has been in the news the past few days.  In the past week, the Department of Agriculture published a newsletter recommending that Americans go meatless on Mondays as means of reducing the environmental impact of meat consumption:
The production of meat, especially beef (and dairy as well), has a large environmental impact. According to the UN, animal agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gases and climate change. It also wastes resources. It takes 7000 kg of grain to make 1000 kg of beef.  (Read more

Sunday, July 29, 2012

PSA: Snakes are Scary

I mentioned something about a rattlesnake and a park ranger in my last post, so here it is: the full story.  Just a note: I'm not usually nearly as pathetic as this story implies.

Last week, my whole family went on vacation together to the Great Smokey Mountains.  Being a nature-lover with no nature-loving friends, I was, of course, excited.  I would have people to hike with (the Texas part of the family loves hiking) and finally have a reason that my husband, who had never hiked before, couldn't avoid to drag him into the woods and make him like it, gosh darn it.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Telegraph Avenue Read Along ~ Parts Three & Four

This is the third post in the Telegraph Avenue pre-release read along hosted by Emily at As the Crow Flies (and Reads).  In case you missed them, make sure to peruse my reviews of part one and part two.  If the book seems super-awesome, be sure to pre-order a copy!

Okay, so I know this post is a day late and that I promised that I would be better after my tardy first post, but I'm on vacation and have an excellent excuse involving a rattlesnake and a park ranger - but that's a post for another day.  Today is about Telegraph Avenue.

So, if you'll remember, I thought that part one was really great and was totally engaged, but then thought that part two lost a little something.  Happily, part three, "A Bird of Wide Experience," was fantastic.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Telegraph Avenue Read Along ~ Part Two

This is the third post in the Telegraph Avenue pre-release read along hosted by Emily at As the Crow Flies (and Reads).  To see my review of part one, click here.  To pre-order a copy of the book, click here.

PSA: It is advisable that you read my review of part one before you read this, especially if you've never read my reviews before, because it is much more coherent and may actually say something, which this post, I assure you, does not.

Oi.  So, part two, "The Church of Vinyl" is upon us, and I'll just say it: I didn't love it.  Not that it's bad - it's not.  But it didn't seem to really go anywhere.  Most of the plot points, of which there weren't many, were rather unsurprising - Gwen finds out about Titus and predictably leaves Archy (I mean, of course she does - he's denied the existence of his first child for fourteen years, which is not really a glowing recommendation when she's about to give birth to his second); Gibson Goode offers Archy a job (um, duh, people will follow him and he's clearly got the smarts); and, um, Nat makes fried chicken (okay, I didn't see that coming, and OH MY GAWD IF MY HUSBAND EVER MADE THAT KIND OF MESS AND LEFT IT I - okay I don't know what I would do because it's unprecedented, but trust me, it would not spell good things for him).  Oh, and Cochise Jones dies, which I forgot until I just checked and I think that Chabon did a very inadequate job of portraying his skill and fame because when people started paying all those tributes, I was all wha?  Who is this guy?  I thought he was just some dude who did decent covers and had a bird on his shoulder.  So that was a bit of a misstep.

Okay, I guess more must have happened than I though because I just remembered Barack Obama's SO RANDOM cameo.  Seriously, where did he come from?  No lie though, it was kind of cool, especially when he was talking about the music being "pretty funky," which I have to admit is a word that I've never really understood except in the "ew, your feet are pretty funky" way.  BUT NOW I DO.  I hope Obama gets a free copy of the book when it comes out, though it will probably just make people yell about how he never reads books by women.  Which he really should.

So yeah.  While I continued to love Chabon's hilarious and surprising writing style (see quotes below), I felt like the pace of this section was a little off.  We had a lot of character introductions and development in "Dream of Cream," and "The Church of Vinyl" did very little to develop that.  The characters seem no more complex and the storyline seems to be stagnating.  It was a little tough to get through (which was made tougher by a couple of continuity errors).  I hope for better from the next section.  In the meantime, I'll leave you with a couple of quotes, because Chabon sure is fun to read.

In which we get some excellent parenting advice:
You have to make them do things they don't want to do, even when you don't really care if they do them or not. (pg.213)
In which the narrator (this isn't free indirect discourse people) makes a fun metaphor about Oakland:
Like a hoard of family diamonds sewn into the hems and hidden pockets of an exile's cloak, Oakland was salted secretly with wonders, even here, at its fetid, half-rotted raggedy-ass end. (pg.219)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Telegraph Avenue Read Along ~ Part One

This is the second post in the Telegraph Avenue pre-release read along hosted by Emily at As the Crow Flies and Reads.  To see my introductory post, click here.  To pre-order a copy of the book for yourself, click here.

Part one of Telegraph Avenue is called "Dream of Cream," a subtitle that probably would cause you to wonder and is duly explained.  All I have to say about that is OM NOM NOM.  Also, this first part was initially rather confusing and frustrating, but once I became oriented it became a much easier read.

"Dream of Cream" takes place in 2004, while straying into the 1970's every so often.  A whole lot of characters are introduced, notably old friends Archy and Nat, who own a record store together; midwifery partners Gwen and Aviva, who are married to Archy and Nat; Luther, Archy's deadbeat, absentee dad; Julius, son of Nat and Aviva, who is portrayed as an old man in a teenage body (though to me,he just seems like a kid marching to his own beat...literally); and Julius's mysterious new friend, Titus, who just arrived from Texas.  Several more characters are introduced, though this is the core cast of characters.  Most of the story takes place in Oakland, CA, occasionally spilling into Berkeley.  Seemingly at the center of this story is Brokeland Records, the store that Archy and Nat own.  Brokeland is threatened by the imminent arrival of a new Dogpile Thang, a media megastore who will likely undercut Brokeland and put them out of business.  Mirroring that is the struggle facing Gwen and Aviva as they fight for respect at the local hospital.

What's really interesting about these two story lines is how Chabon weaves issues of race into them.  For example, wouldn't most people say that the small, local, indie record store is preferable (though maybe not price-wise)?  But it is suggested that Dogpile Thang is actually better for the black community of Oakland because it is 100% black-owned, unlike Brokeland.  It's an interesting dichotomy.  Likewise, in their struggles at the hospital, Gwen acknowledges how she feels her behavior towards the establishment must be different from Aviva's because of their difference in race.  Beyond the actual differences in how the two women approach the hospital staff, it's really interesting and revealing to see how Gwen thinks about it:
Her relations toward authority, toward its wielders and tools, were - had to be - more complicated than her partner's.  She could not as blithely subordinate her pride and self-respect...  To the extent that Gwen had been hassled in her life by representatives of the white establishment, she had been trained to get the better of the situation without compromising herself... (pg. 59)
One thing that is a little bit frustrating in the novel is how vague Chabon is about the race of the characters.  If we were to actually see these people, we'd most likely recognize their race immediately.  However, the vagueness interferes with that implicit understanding of the racial politics at play.  Though, even while being frustrated by this, I think I see Chabon's intention too.  By not explicitly saying "Archy, a black man..." he prevents the reader from making race-based assumptions until he's said a little more about who the character is.  I'd imagine that this could force people to confront their own beliefs and values, which is a tremendous thing for a writer to do.

And race isn't the only controversial topic that Chabon takes on.  Julius and Titus, the teen friends, while not necessarily identifying as gay, experiment with a gay relationship.  Despite the sexual relationship, however, there still exists the tension of cultural expectations, which Julius in particular seems to struggle with emotionally during a time of distress for Titus:
Julie thought about squeezing in next to Titus, between him and the wall of the stairwell.  Put his arm around the boy, lay his head against his shoulder, hold his hand.  If he were Titus's girlfriend, it would be the easiest thing in the world."I wish I were you girlfriend," he said. (pg. 106)
I'm interested to see what Chabon does with the unusual relationship the boys have, though I think his handling of race in the book thus far indicates that he will handle it carefully and thoughtfully.

Overall, this has been a great start to the book.  Chabon's narration is great - a little mocking, a little ironic, with great observations that get their humor from how he states the obvious.  In the beginning, I had some issues following the story, but that smoothed itself out quickly, once I became accustomed to the jumping around and occasional time switches.  The only complaint I have (and it's not so much a complaint as a criticism) is that the various story lines tie together a bit too neatly.  That is, of course, the way of many novels and it serves its purpose here as well.  By intersecting the story lines so much, we get to see the characters from many different angles, which allows us to understand both the viewed and the viewers more deeply.  I can nit-pick all I want but the truth is, it's a great novel so far and Chabon seems to be a master.  I can't wait to continue.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Atonement ~ Ian McEwan

There's something about Ian McEwan - maybe it's all of the 100 books to read before you die lists he's on, or maybe the summaries of his novels - that always makes me think I would like him.  I tried twice, with The Cement Garden and Atonement, and was disappointed both times.  With both novels, even while reading I felt like I should be enjoying them, but just didn't for some reason.  That was a few years ago, and I'd given up on McEwan, when I stumbled across the audiobook of Atonement at the library, and thought I'd give him another shot.  This is how I choose most of my audiobooks - whatever seems the most appealing/least unappealing choice at the library that day - and usually it works out, so I gave it a shot.

Before I get into the book, I need to relate how odd it was to read (listen to).  Odd, because I don't remember the last forty or so pages.  At all.  Most of the rest of it was familiar, but that last bit was a complete surprise.  I'm pretty sure I finished the book, partially because my bookmark (the receipt) for my physical copy is behind the cover and partially because who gives up on a book forty pages from the end, no matter how much they dislike it?  I had this experience once before, when rereading The Bell Jar which I really liked, and discovered that I had no memory of the whole of the second half.  And how strange that I should forget the end, rather than the beginning?

But, the book.  It starts on an unbearably hot day in the summer of 1935, when the Tallis family is expecting their only son and his friend home for a visit.  Also there are three cousins, the Quincy children, who are staying there during their parents' messy divorce.  The elder Tallis girl is languishing at home after completing college, while deciding what to do next, and avoiding the part-time landscaper, whom she resents and her father is about to put through medical school.  The mother is in bed with a migraine as usual, and the father is absent due to work, also as usual.  The younger daughter, Briony, is planning a production of a play she wrote in which her cousins will perform.  Though it seems an average day in the lives of this upper-class British family, it becomes the day on which childhood will end and the frailty of conviction will come crashing down, a day which will redefine the rest of all their lives.

McEwan tells his story from multiple points of view - the first section follows, in turns, Briony, her sister Cecilia, their mother, Emily, the landscaper, Robbie, and the Quincy children briefly.  The second section visits Robbie in France during World War II, and the third joins Briony in a war hospital shortly thereafter.  McEwan does a really nice job of showing how misunderstanding and misinterpretation arise, and how disastrous they can be, by describing the events from different perspectives.  As the novel progresses and we see the paths that each characters' choices lead them on, McEwan builds on this framework.

But the real heart of the story is Briony's reflections on writing and truth and experience.  She is the main catalyst for much of the story's conflict, because of how badly she misinterprets what she observes.  She muses on the act of writing and what kind of knowledge it requires of her, getting much of it wrong at the time when it means the most, though it is all very interesting.  She gets quite in-depth with her thoughts and as they unfold, you see them unfolding in the text of the novel itself.  Sometimes it's hard to see where Briony leaves off and McEwan picks up, or the other way around, as the novel creates and recreates itself from her thoughts.

I think I understand now why I have so much trouble with McEwan.  He gets really deep into his characters' heads, uncovering thought patters and progressions that feel quite natural.  Good, right?  Except that he also devotes a huge number of words to describing the physical scene, which results in a bit of a stand-still.  I don't require fast-paced novels by any means, but when 175 pages is devoted to one day, it gets a bit excessive.  The amount of time devoted to describing an action or thought is far longer than the amount of time required for the action or thought to unfold.  It almost feels more like a painting than novel - we get a moment in all it's detail, but hardly a story to go with it.  I enjoyed the novel more this time around, but especially on audiobook it got a bit tedious - the descriptions sometimes seem unending and leave little to the imagination.

My biggest complaint about this novel is that it is one line too long.  After Briony reflects on what to do with lovers in a novel, whether to subject them to grim realism or the hoped-for happy ending, the novel suddenly reverts to a what I read as a gimmicky line about Briony, who I feel should, at that point, remain the novelist and not the point of the novel.  Without that one line, which by my reading (though mine is certainly not the only reading) adds an unnecessary sense of melodrama to the end of the novel, the novel would have ended perfectly, in my opinion.  Though perhaps, because at that point the novel is in the first person, the point is that Briony has not grown as much as she and the reader think, and still is a child at the heart of her own performance.  But since her narrative voice is so caught up with McEwan's own, it's heard to untangle this strain from the intent of the noel.  It's an interesting conundrum, though that doesn't make me like that last line anymore.

A quick note on the audiobook: It's performed by Jill Tanner, who also read The Constant Princess (why is it that nearly all of the audiobooks I listen to are of British novels, read by British speakers?? - it is not intentional by any means).  To an uninformed American ear, Tanner's accent seems slightly high-falutin', but that actually fits the story perfectly, as every main character seems to have a heightened sense of his or her own worth and are clearly inhabit the upper crust of British society.  Tanner does a really good, faithful job with her performance, with subtle but distinct changes for different voices, and even a slight change to accommodate aging.  Though the flowery writing can be tough to follow on audio, Tanner's performance certainly helps matters.

I would probably recommend this to somebody who doesn't mind a quiet novel and likes to really think about the creation of writing.  It'll give you food for thought, even if it's slow going.  I think that I will even give McEwan another shot after this experience, with a whole new book and everything, though I'll probably stick to a print version, the better to get lost in his thoughts.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Telegraph Avenue Readalong: Inaugural Post

Guys, I am the worst blogger ever.  Emily over at As the Crow Flies and Reads invited me to join the lovely pre-release read-along of Telegraph Avenue that she's hosting and I managed to miss the first post.  Not cool.  It's not that I wasn't thinking about it - I just failed to pay attention to the calendar and may have gotten completely distracted by the other book that I'm currently reading and will now abandon for a month.

So, the book!  Telegraph Avenue is the newest novel by Michael Chabon, which, if I'm not mistaken, is due for release on September 11 (preorder it, if'n you want!).  I've never read Chabon before, though he's been on my list of authors to get to, so when I heard of this read along, I knew I wanted to try it.  Partially to check someone off of my TBR list and partially to read a book before it's available to most people because, let's face it, that makes me feel super-cool.  And it's one of those kinds of books that I really like (at least according to the summary) - layered, with a seemingly large cast of characters, multiple converging storylines, and unafraid to tackle tough topics, like race in the United States.  The summary describes it as an epic, which should be exciting.

In short, I'm super excited to be participating in this read along (and read alongs in general, because it's fun to read with other and be able to have a conversation).  I'll be posting every Tuesday through the end of the month and can't wait to compare notes with my fellow readers.  Now excuse me while I go set a reminder on my phone for next week's post.

Happy Independence Day!

Monday, July 2, 2012


[Now imagine that Indiana
Jones wrote this book.  Or
starred in it.  Or was mercilessly
mocked by it.  I'm not sure which
[Imagine that this is a video clip
of Indiana Jones righteously
claiming that things he wants
belong in a museum in a cheap
attempt to get Western viewers
who were bottle-fed on museums
to sympathize with his cause.]
So I have this Indiana Jones thing.  I'm sure I'm not the only one.  But when he loudly declares that "It belongs in a museum," I can't help but wince and take onto my shoulders the guilt of centuries of white people being assholes.  And then I create some personal guilt for having ever been in a museum.  And then I angrily tell whoever is sitting next to me that Indiana Jones is a terrible person and that now we can't go to the movies or museums anymore.  And this is why nobody ever wants to go places with me.

So, if you've never read Possession, I'm sure you're wondering what exactly the connection is.  Well, there's this guy in Possession who is American and white and likes to take away people's treasures and keep them for his very own and also give them better conditions than most human beings have.  Like temperature control and gentle breezes on command and remote-control curtains.  And he is all indignant that people should wish for their own possessions to moulder away in obscurity and let the past be in the past and let sleeping dogs lie and several other idiomatic expressions, when he could be having the things.  And it's pretty much like Indiana Jones is running rampant through the streets of 1987 England trying to steal people's stuff.  And it makes me so angry because why do old things belong in a museum rather than in the place that they were made and/or will be destroyed?  And yes, there are a lot of people in the book who are all like "British people should study British things because that's the nice way to be" and even then I'm all like, dude.  These people were skeletons before you were even born, who cares who attended some skeleton's breakfast party?  Because they care far too much.

So I've been debating this with myself for a couple of days because it kind of sounds like I'm saying that we shouldn't study old literature and that is not at all what I am saying.  Because I like old literature.  But the thing is, I'm starting to kind of feel like studying old literature and the old people who wrote it beyond what you do in a college or maybe a master's-level classroom might just be a waste of everyone's time. Maybe Possession isn't a very accurate portrayal of these kinds of advanced studies, but I really just don't see what anybody is getting out of it.  The associated drama is just ridiculous and the contribution to human knowledge is completely unapparent.  So what if these two skeletons diddled when they still had skin?  Why is money being spent to refrigerate old manuscripts whose pages are too delicate to be turned when it could be spent to refrigerate meals for homeless children?  Okay, I'm kind of going a different way with this now, but do you see my point?

Don't get me wrong, I think I got some valuable skills out of being an English major.  It definitely honed my writing and analytical skills, and gave me some less tangible but perhaps even more valuable skills in understanding real people.  These are transferable.  And yes, some advanced study is needed to teach students about this literature and help them develop these same skills and show people where we came from, but devoting your life to analyzing every last word of some skeleton's journal just because her husband wrote some famous poems speaks of some sort of disorder to me.  Not all knowledge is helpful.  Some things - most, even - belong exactly where they are and have been; it's not our business to resurrect them and take them from their homes.

Am I being completely ridiculous?  Or do you see what I mean?  I am actually enjoying the book, I just don't get it!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

My Summer Reading List

Okay, I lied.  Technically, this is not the list of books I intend to read that summer.  I dare not give you that list, because there are only two confirmed titles on it (Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon and Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin), because man would that be a boring post and look, I already managed to convey all necessary information.  Instead, I'm giving you my custom summer reading list for incoming college freshmen, as inspired by Cassandra's summer reading list outline over at Book Riot.  No, really, click the link; I don't think I explained that very well.  So I chose my favorite book for each category, and now I just have to wait for some poor soul I know to graduate high school, looking forward to an academic-free summer before entering the hallowed halls of some overpriced academic center that spends all of the aforementioned excessive tuition on football stadiums instead of proper heating*, so that I can dump ten books on him or her and demand book reports before Labor Day.

1) One of Shakespeare's plays: As You Like It: I wish I could tell you why this is my choice, but all I can remember, having read it nearly ten years ago, is that it's my favorite.  And that's that.  Also, this is where that "All the world's a stage / And all the men and women merely players" line comes from.  So don't go trying to tell me it's from Hamlet.  Or was it Macbeth?  NEITHER.  Wow, this just made me realize how long it's been since I've read one of Shakespeare's plays (too long).

2) Biography of a historical figure: The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir: Okay, so technically, Cassandra said it should ideally be the biography of an American person, but I don't read that many biographies, okay?  I'll get on that.  In the mean time, I'll be that niche person in the common room rambling on about these old dead queens while everyone else is talking about Frederick Douglass.  That's what college freshmen do in their free time, right?

3) Book about a historical event: Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh: Epic in scope, this is a fictional tale of the opium trade and its effects on the Indians who were forced to produce it, among many others related to this bit of history.  Not only is this a great book, but it's all about how much the West sucks and how long it has sucked for, which really should score any incoming college freshman points for self-loathing.  I will not, however, be making the sequel required reading.

4) Classic novel (pre-1910): Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: Does this really need an explanation?  Dark, romantic, disturbing, and oh yeah, you'll be mocked if you don't know what everyone's talking about in your lit class.  READ IT.

5) Modern classic (post-1910): Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf: Challenging without being inaccessible, this will force those wee freshmen to use their noggins without pushing them over the edge.  A skillful execution of a strange and compelling story, this classic of Virginia Woolf should be read by all.

6) Dystopian novel: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood: Not only is this a disturbing and compelling tale of what happens when a government has gone wrong, it eerily echoes what's going on in the United States today.  A great lesson in what not to do with that college education.

7) YA novel: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky: This one was tough for me because I don't read much young adult fiction and I'm blown away by even less of it.  However, this book about a teen boy trying to figure out his present while avoiding his past meant a lot to me when I myself was a teen heading off to college, and I would gift it to any adolescent, regardless of their college plans.

8) Nonfiction re: science, medicine, or technology: Okay, I don't read much in any of these categories (read: anything).  I have been interested in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks though, so that one!  Sure.  I'm open to suggestions as I clearly need to round out this cobwebbed corner of my reading life.

9) Political: The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan: So you might not think this is a political book but it totally is.  When you challenge the way people eat, it goes far beyond a mere question of meat, but of what their ethics are, their independence of thought and behavior, their ability to look beneath the surface (or just hide their heads in the sand).  I think that the way we eat, and the conditions to which we condemn our food, animal or vegetable, says a lot about who we are on a grander scale.  Plus, this is a nice soft book that challenges without attacking.  The tougher stuff comes sophomore year. :]

10) Graphic novel: Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse: This is a story in comics of a man accepting his homosexuality in an intensely racist community.  Okay, I'm not sure about this one because it's been a while, but I remember really loving it.  Plus, it's also got politics and history, so it's a triple whammy.

*No, I'm not bitter and resentful at all.  Why do you ask?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Meatless Monday: CSA, Vitamix, & Cupcakes!

Guys!  Gals!  This is Soy Chai Bookshelf's 200th post!  I'm not really sure what that means, but it feels like a milestone of sorts so yay!  It's kind of funny that it's about food stuffs when this is a book blog but there you have it.  It is Meatless Monday after all...

Meatless Monday is a movement to get Americans to eat less meat and more veggies through the simple expedient of not eating any animal products one day a week.  It's a great way to segue into vegetarianism or even veganism, or just make a small but real difference in your health and the environment.  To that end, on Meatless Mondays here at Soy Chai Bookshelf I will talk about anything related to food and vegetarianism, from cookbook reviews to to recipes I've created (don't hold your breath) to bragging about the delicious vegetarian feast I just whipped up to discussing in a (hopefully) not-too-judgemental way why vegetarianism is a great choice.  I would also love to host guest posters on the topic, so if you're interested in being featured, send me an e-mail at jlmarck at gmail dot com.

SO MUCH FOOD STUFFS GOING ON!  For me, that is.  It's all very exciting.

This year the hubby and I signed up for a CSA at a local organic farm.  For those not in the know, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  Basically, we bought a share in the farm and, in exchange, we get a weekly box of freshest produce, from around Memorial Day to rounds about Thanksgiving, which is about the same as the farmers' market season around here.  The weekly yield depends on how the farm does during that time, so there's not guarantee on how much will be in the box each week.  Just before the season started, there was a hail storm at one of their two farms, which destroyed tens of thousands of heads of lettuce but even still, the weekly portions have been more than generous (because of where we pick up, we had to get the family-sized package, which means a whole lotta salad.  It's been really great though - the produce is so fresh and lasts so much longer than the stuff you get in the store (All that produce that's grown across the world and has been genetically modified to last longer?  Just get it nearby, and you'll get the same result).  Plus it's organic, so sometimes it comes with friends, like the cocooned caterpillar I found on one of my lettuce leaves.  Sounds gross, but it was so cool!  Everything's super dirty though, but processing it isn't so bad since I really feel like it's mine, since I have a stake in it.  I took pictures of the first two weeks' yields - look at how green!

This influx in greens has also meant more green smoothies, which is a delicious and healthy way to get some more greens in your diet.  Only problem is, I just broke my blender (third one in two years), and using an immersion blender to make a smoothie is rather awful.  Soooooo.... I finally ordered a Vitamix!  Vitamix and Blendtec are pretty much the blenders to have - super powerful and long-lasting, apparently they can make nut butters in seconds, so just imagine what they could do to tough kale leaves!  I got a Vitamix because they have refurbished models available, which saves quite a bit of money (the Vitamix is not cheap) and still comes with a five-year warranty.  Veggies, rejoice!  If you're interested, I'll put my basic recipe for a green smoothie at the end of this post.

Finally, I got a new cookbook!  Om nom nom!  This was a total impulse buy, but I just couldn't resist.  Apparently Doron Petersan, who owns a vegan bakery in Washington D.C., has won Food Network's Cupcake Wars twice, with vegan cupcakes!  I'm telling you guys, vegan cupcakes are the way to go!  The book is really fun, with recipes for basics, recreations of classic Hostess treats, and even the recipes for her winning cupcakes!  There's also a bit of the science behind baking, which is given in a completely accessible manner.  I really appreciate Doron's philosophy about vegan baking and eggs - the object isn't to replace the egg but to determine what you want (e.g. a delicate crumb, airiness, flakiness) and figure out how to get there.  So when people ask, But what did you replace the egg with? you can confidently say, Nothing!  And stop asking that damned question!  So far, I've only made the chocolate cupcakes and vanilla frosting, but they were delicious!  Which bodes well for the rest of the book.  Happy baking!

My Green Smoothie Recipe
Don't be afraid to drink your greens!  I put enough fruit in here that you can't even taste the green stuff, though you still get all the benefits.  Oh, and on days when I drink green smoothies, I don't need my morning cup of tea.  Slurp on that!

1 cup orange juice, plus more as needed
1 large handful greens (e.g. kale, chard, beet greens)
3/4 frozen banana (peel and freeze banana in quarters)
1/4 cup or so other frozen fruit (e.g. mango, pineapple)

If you're making this in a regular blender, I suggest you blend  the juice and greens together first, to get them as smooth as possible, then add the frozen fruit.  As for the frozen fruit, I suggest you avoid berries, unless you want to drink brown sludge.  It'll taste good but it won't be as pretty.  Likewise, using beet greens or rainbow chard won't affect the taste, but it probably will make the drink less appetizing.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Reading Journal 6/24/12

I haven't posted in over a week, mostly because I haven't had much to say.  I haven't been sure whether I want to continue the assault on Mountains Beyond Mountains (I don't want to insult the person who gave it to me, but I'm also disgusted by it).  I've had zero desire to pick it up though, so instead I decided to take a stab at my crazy TBR pile shelf before I start a prerelease read along for Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue next month, which I'm super-excited about by the way.  I've only done a couple of read alongs, but it's so nice to have other people to discuss books with that I jump on the chance when I can.

In lieu of continuing Mountain Beyond Mountains, I started reading Possession by A.S. Byatt, which I got from Abebooks quite a while ago.  This has been a bit of a strange reading experience thus far.  When I first started, I was all must have complete silence to contemplate the difficult thing that is this and put a closed door between my husband and me to ensure peace.  And after a chapter, I was all, what do I care about Ash and a lady that he may or may not have written to and are these even real people?  Perhaps I will not continue.  And also, this is why I did not pursue a PhD in English, because man would this kind of work suck.  But I persevered, and nearly 200 pages in I've finally gotten accustomed to the writing style of the poetry and letters printed within the novel, and don't even mind them much anymore.  I've stopped falling asleep after reading two pages, too!  I'm even getting a little hooked on it.  Though I've yet to find any quotes worthy of me vandalizing my own book, which is a bit disappointing, as this seems like the kind of books where I'd be likely to do just that.  Preliminarily, I'd like to say that this is no light read and if you need action in a novel, this is probably not the book for you.

As for my last piece of bookish news, I'm going to a book club tomorrow!  With real people (that is to say that they will be present in the flesh, not the url).  We're discussing Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which I've read a couple of times but probably still would have reread if I'd had more than a week's notice and had the book available to me upon learning about it.  So I'm going to rely on my memory and a bit of Wikipedia to get me through, so as not to make a complete fool of myself, and hope to have more time to prepare for our next meeting.

Oh, and I'm writing this to you from my fancy new Mac desktop, which is fancy and nice and demonstrates both why it is good and not so good to have a husband working at Apple, because we get nice things for less but also spend money on said nice things that we would not have spent otherwise, even if it is less.  It's so nice!  And kind of makes our desk look like a doll desk because the smallest screen available is still so big and nice!  Okay, I'm done now.

Oh, and I'm probably actually going to post a Meatless Monday post tomorrow because I've got all sorts of exciting foodie things going on (okay, not really, but it's exciting to me), so be sure to check back.  Happy Sunday!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

White People Save the World...Again

So while school's out forever summer, I'm doing this federally funded public healthy project, yada yada yada.  It mostly consists of me staring at my computer and trying to summon up the courage to beg strangers for donations for a health fair that I have six weeks to plan (anyone?  please?  it's for a good cause!).  Anywho, as part of this whole shebang, my cohort and I received some free stuff, mainly books.  Woot!  It's like this whole thing was planned with me in mind...

...except not.  I started reading one of them.  Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder is a love sonnet about Dr. Paul Farmer, "A man who would cure the world."  No, really.  It actually says that on the cover.  And the expectations instigated by that phrase have been overwhelmingly affirmed in the 141 pages I've read so far.  Get this - a white guy decides to go treat people with pigmented skin, whether they like it or not.  No, literally.  He sometimes chases them around until they let him give them medicine.  You can't make this stuff up.

Okay, in fairness it sounds like Farmer is actually pretty amazing.  He's done some pretty cool stuff and sounds like he's sacrificed a lot to do it (though you get the sense that the self-satisfaction he derives is far stronger than the pleasures of suburban life for him).  Of course, he does do that obnoxious white hero in a foreign land thing of marrying some lady and having babies with that lady and then proceeding to ignore said lady and said babies to do some other stuff.  And yes, that other stuff is very important, but really, choose.  I mean, said baby will probably have about 100 complexes about the fact that she thinks you're awesome but resents you for choosing those other people over her but then feels guilty about that fleeting thought because really they need you more than she does but dammit, she wants her Daddy.  That isn't really the point of this post.

The point of this post is that these kinds of stories can be okay, if they're true (which I can't help but doubt in this case*) and done well (which this one is not).  Kidder, the narrator of this tale, clearly hero-worships Farmer and leaves it at that.  We hear all about Farmer's life - the white family he grew up with, a white patient he treated, the white girlfriend who wouldn't marry him (and found him to be the only person in all of Haiti that she could have fun with), the white people he went to school with, the white people that sponsored his work, the white teachers who let him get away with occasionally being late for labs because he was busy saving Haiti from tuberculosis (which is horrifyingly alive and well in the world).

There's one thing missing from this story.  One very important thing.  Have you spotted it?

Haitians.  Farmer has devoted his life to Haiti and its citizens, but Kidder mentions almost none of them, except as diagnoses and cultural oddities.  There's the patient with resistant TB, the person who thought one son's Voodoo killed another son, the patient who thanked Farmer with dirty milk, the patient who died because there was no blood bank in the hospital...  There are patients, but not people.  There are specimens, but not names or voices or faces.  They get medicine and tin roofs, but they don't get stories.  Haiti is merely the backdrop of Farmer's tale.

Don't get me wrong.  If this story is wholly true, I don't think that Haitians are a nonentity for Farmer at all.  I think that they are extremely important to him - Farmer's family, the people he seeks out for comfort even when he's not in Haiti.  But for Kidder, they are nothing, just a dark, faceless curtain before which Farmer's face glows with purity.  The point, to Kidder and to the book, is Farmer, not the people he serves and has built his life's work for.

The problem is, I don't think most people would notice this distinction.  Most people, I feel, would see the white man's glory, the problems the white man most solve, the problems (other) white men create.  In short, they will continue to see the white man's world, in which non-white people merely serve as tools to determine the white man's story, whether he is good or bad or some other thing.  In purportedly showing how one man bridges that gap, Kidder widens it even more.

Kidder has mentioned that Farmer marries a Haitian woman.  I can't help if she will get a part in this charade, or if she too will be relegated to the background, less important than the white woman who rejected Farmer.

Wow, it was good to get that off my chest.

*My doubtfulness about the veracity of this tale is due entirely to cynicism.  Too many of these stories turn out to be falsified, and one as fantastic as this seems too unlikely to be real.  I may be completely wrong about this, in which case I must say that I admire the work that Farmer has done and the sacrifices he has made.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Beloved ~ Toni Morrison

So, I read Beloved, Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, partially because I've meant to ever since reading The Bluest Eye and partially because of my recent discovery that in two years of blogging, I haven't read a single book written by a black person.  Oh, and I found a copy for practically nothing at the library book sale.

I'm not really sure what to say about it.  I read some reviews on Goodreads before starting (and man did people not agree) and they all managed to spoil everything that happens in the novel right up to the very end, so I'm going to try and avoid that for you.  It's hard, though, to figure out what I can say about it without spoiling.  It takes place shortly after the Civil War, though there are many flashbacks and "rememories" of times before the war.  The novel focuses on several characters who managed to escape slavery before the war, one of which was a mother of four when her old slave master tracked her down and tried to bring her back.  This triggered an event that seems to be the catalyst for the novel itself, involving a hard, controversial decision and years of regret and haunting.

And there's the sticking point.  There's haunting and a ghostly presence and I just don't know what to make of it all.  It's not exactly magical realism (at least I don't think so) because while some characters take it for granted, some question it, and haunting certainly doesn't seem to be the norm in this world that Morrison has created.  Plus, the catalyst for this presence is so horrific that you wouldn't need a ghost for it to haunt you forever.  So maybe that's it - maybe the ghost is an inner sense of guilt and horror made real?  If that's the point, though, it seems problematic, because the haunted don't seem personally persecuted by the memories themselves, or even the ghost, who they've learned to live with.

I'm not sure why I feel like there has to be a "point," per se.  I mean, I don't usually think a story about people's lives needs to have a specific purpose other than that, but I feel like I must be missing something. Morrison must be saying something profound, must be doing something awe-inspiring, but I'm just not sure what it is.  Feel free to enlighten me, because I'm really just lost on this one.  I didn't dislike it, exactly, though I certainly had trouble motivating myself to read it.  I just didn't get it.  Something didn't click with me, and I'd love to better understand why this won a Pulitzer.

Oh, and this quote, from the very end (but it doesn't spoil anything):
"She is a friend of mine.  She gather me, man.  The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order.  It's good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind." (272-273)
I love that quote, about how love makes you whole.  The once-slaves in the novel say some beautiful things, and I wish I had noted more.  So maybe the novel is about the endurance of love, at least in part?  Though its destructive qualities seem more strongly pronounced.  I don't know - it's beyond my grasp.